Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Back From Brooklyn...

So I've been away. For far too long. I've been in USA where, even in Brooklyn, soccer seems to be the attention-seeking toddler peeping through and around the legs of the unfeasibly tall (basketballers) and unfeasibly wide (US footballers) that dominate the game.

Yes I could've paid Rupert Murdoch and sucked up the Sky-spunking Premier League but I chose not to do that. It's good to have break from this sort of saturation. Off the wagon I was in a manner of speaking.

Have I missed it? Well apart from Boro's brilliant form - that petered out at Ipswich to greet my return, ta very much - not a lot.

In my absence, the Premier League has sought to right itself. Citeh and Chelsea are strides ahead of the rest. When Mourinho says his players don't dive, I kind of agree. Cahill's impression of a leaping impala getting taken out by a crossbow has to be one of the most laughable examples of this disgraced art we have yet seen.

Mourinho wil probably make sure there's a lot less falling over in the next few matches, but you can't help thinking that, following two typical cockney forays into he teeth of the North-East (I've seen you Londoners up here - "Brrr!! I need another layer!" "Isn't the architecture bleak?" "oooh that's very hot for a rogan josh" etc. ) the Portuguese wanted his boys to make absolutely sure Hull were beaten.

Pellegrini seems to have bought himself a bit of time now that Citeh have taken a baby step into the last 16 of the Champions League. Rushing back Aguero might seem a good idea but anyone with half a mind - Robbie Savage for example - would know that the reason he keeps twanging ligaments and muscles is cos they keep rushing him back. Duh!

Meanwhile the story of the season continues to be twofold. West Ham are doing well - please God don't make this lead to a rallying cry for Big Sam to take over the reins for England. And the romantic second team of last year are doing shite. From runner-ups to run aground. Liverpool have fallen from grace like a mighty tiger sliding into a bath of beans.

Yes they have lost a front two, but Rodgers has had money to burn and replaced them with a big Scouse workhorse he doesn't trust (Lambert) and a big Italian twerp who no one trusts (Balotelli). In short Rodgers has been rubbish this year.

I see he reckons Liverpool can target a top four finish after they bundled in a last minute equaliser against a ludicrously timid Arsenal. I guess his reasoning is that they can't play any worse. And Sterling seems to be sharper now he's dispensed with the Little Richard bouffant. Small man, big hair never works does it? He looked like a particularly cool character that never quite made it into the Peanuts cartoons.

In other news, Alistair Cook has finally been relieved of his duties as one-day cricket captain after being utterly crap at the format for as long as anyone can remember. Mind you, just cos the decision was a 'no-brainer' doesn't mean the England selectors didn't take a fucking age to reach the same conclusion as everyone else.

Honestly that bunch of deflanneled toffs don't make decisions in a hurry do they? I've seen glacial valleys formed with greater alacrity.
The Barclays Center from my distant view. The Duke of Cambridge is the very slapheaded fella on the front row.
Meanwhile, Robbo's sporting horizons have widened. I watched an NBA game at the Barclays Center which featured an on-court meeting between our royals and theirs. William and Kate plodded in that tiresomely studied regal manner while the ball was in play. I mean they didn't pay for their tickets, they couldn't be bothered to turn up on time and then they put the players off.  Plain bloody rude.

Beyonce and Jay-Z - both shorter than you'd imagine - welcomed our national no-marks with open arms and it all got in the way of watching one Lebron James who, despite me being very sketchy on the technique and principles of basketball, stood out from the fray like Darcey Bussell on a hen night dance floor.

The man is grace personified. He did very little for the first half, then decided to show up for a quarter and the Nets were dead in the water. Lebron sat down for the last eight minutes, his work done. He might just be the finest sportsman I've seen in the flesh. Then again, there's always Alan Foggon.

The mighty Foggo
Of course returning for a Christmas break after a football-free period is like a crash-dieter getting a fortnight's binge at Gregg's. It'll more than get me back on the bad side. I have always cherished this wall-to-wall footy festival. It's not quite the same without the iron-hard frozen pitches, the snow walled up around the pitch-sides and the orange balls pinging about like mysterious glowing planets.

And you have to regret the creeping professionalism that prevents a bunch of top-class sportspeople from tottering across a frozen wasteland on Boxing day with Watneys Red Barrel and a dodgy many malted whisky repeating at their befrosted lips as they blunder around like bad-ass Bambis and some old-school Burnley or Leicester takes them apart.

I guess that was usually a United or a Liverpool. I haven't mentioned Man United. From my distant viewpoint they appeared to be stumbling into a run of victories which were single-handedly maintained by one David De Gea. If that man patrolled the Mexican border, no one would get in.

And while there seems to be as much luck as judgement going into the United renaissance I cannot help but be impressed with Van Gaal, not least because he is refreshingly direct about the stupidity or otherwise of his own players. I doubt, Louis would've have been insisting in the innocence of his staff after a performance like the Chelsea Tumblers put in against Hull.

I till reckon Chelsea'll win - yes I tipped Citeh at the start of the season - but somehow they grind it out. As for the quadruple... no. The treble, quite possibly, but they won't stop Real Madrid. No one will.

As ever I shall be handing out some pressies for the great and good of British sport in the next blog. But I have one question: what the fuck is Lewis Hamilton, a dull man in the dullest of sports, doing winning Sports Personality of the Year? McIlroy - far less dull even if the sport he plays isn't exactly thrilling - was a far more deserving recipient.

Tsk. I dunno. You leave the country for a couple of months...

Monday, 27 October 2014

Allardyce, Bless Each Morning You Greet Me

A really very curious weekend of footy. I keep thinking Middlesbrough could have been top - that's how weird it is.

The Premier League table just looks odd, like a cut-out and keep from a time when Ipswich and Burnley and Derby could and by God did win the First Division title. (They were happier times: pies were tuppence, terraces were human wave machines and modern beef cattle would've turned up their noses at the pitches.)

Southampton stroll forward with a curiously able collection of talents assembled by Ronald Koeman, who I keep imagine being played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Had anyone really heard of Pelle, Mane and Tadic before August? I was lamenting the disembowelment of Pocchetino's posse just weeks ago - now it seems it couldn't have been kinder.

Just as astonishing is Fat Sam's Fancy Dans at Upton Park. Again what Allardyce has managed to find - and this is football's equivalent to finding a suitcase full of cash in a public lavatory - is two goalscorers. We knew about Valencia but the other lad is lethal. Indeed, with a tight defence, a snappy midfield and agreat front man you could see Sam's got the full package: the backs, hacks and Sakho.

Big Sam seemed more than a little chuffed to be kissed by Russell Brand. I was looking forward to reading Brand's new book Revolution but at the last minute I realised that simply by purchasing the contemporary tome I'd be buying into a tired and unaccountable establishment paradigm that disenfranchises the working-class and only seeks to propagate its plutocratic hierarchies ad infinitum. So I eschewed its doubtless enticement and found myself compensated by the twin enchantments - steady there missus - of a glittering pint of Northern ale and a beautiful lady. Don't you know. (Anyone could write that stuff - trouble is, he does.)

Amongst all these refreshing table-top developments we cannot of course overlook the leaders and their comfy six-point cushion.

Chelsea continue to bolster the received wisdom that titles can be bought. Yesterday's match against the latest converts to that principle, Manchester United, threw together two of the most charismatic managers in the game. That's what I was told, anyway. Repeatedly. Til I told someone to shut the fuck up before I lamped him.

Journalists love to purr over these so-called masterminds as if this was less a footy match and more Kasparov v Karpov. Unfortunately for football managers, when they actually put their pieces into action they more often than not fail to behave int he expected fashion. Just ask Gus Poyet, whose solid rook Wes Brown turned into a right prawn, while the steady unyielding King Vito fell over and resigned long before the game was lost.

Nevertheless, Mourinho does seem to take a tighter hold of his men that most, if that doesn't create too unnerving an image. Once he and Van Gaal had disentangled themselves from as sincerely a held embrace as two men have ever mustered (I can't imagine Wenger even hugging his wife with such feeling) Chelsea fell into the Jose shape and stayed there.

Meanwhile Van Gaal's back three, four or five (depending on how many fingers you had covering your eyes) resembled a Dad's Army outtake at times, all of 'em darting in opposite directions, none of which was towards the ball. Mourinho missed a trick - there were goals to be had, particularly while Hazard was up against Rafael, a man who defends like a teenager lost in a haunted house with just a dim torch for company.

Mourinho's caution backfired, Fellaini mysteriously found some form and, as ever, United's forward forays showed enough swagger to encourage the Stretford End. Van Persie's goal was celebrated with the sort of clamour you'd expect for a late equaliser at, say, St Andrews. (There'll be one before 2015's out, I tell you). Yes, United get a plucky point. Well done, you scrapping hard-pressed little millionaires!

Although both Jose and Louis indulged in an after-you session when asked who might be the better of the two, I'd have to agree with the Dutchman that Mourinho pips him. The accusation with Mourinho is that he's only ever done it with huge squads on massive budgets. True. But not every one is good at that. Just ask David Moyes.

I'm not saying that Jose's teams spread joy to all and sundry - as Sunday showed he'd rather have a Matic than a Messi - but he knows how to get rich egocentric young men to work together and that takes some doing in this day and age.

Of course even he finds some players 'unmanageable'. Signore Balotelli, for one. Ironically a simple tap-in from three yards is what Mario finds 'unmanageable' at the moment. I feel a bit torn about the bloke. At least he's trying. It's just, well, I'm not sure he's really that much cop. And neither do the Kop.

Yes it's a rum old league at the mo, and with the top twenty in the Championship separated by a distance even shallower than the depth of Peter Schmeichel's analysis (seriously keepers don't really know owt about footy do they?) it's looking like everything's very difficult to predict. Apart from Chelsea winning the Premier League. Tsk.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Moaning Geezers

There's always a tipping point in a Premier League season, where managers under pressure can't be bothered to zip it any longer and out pours the bile in a kaleidoscopic yawn, such as you might see from a Bigg Market reveller on a Friday night .

This weekend is a case in point. They were all at it. Harry Redknapp says he can't play Adel Taarabt cos he's three stone overweight, a fantastic achievement by the lad in four months. The old cockney claims he could get about the park quicker than the Fatman of Fez. Maybe so, but could Richard Dunne outsprint either of them?

Who ate all the couscous?
Clearly Redknapp's demeanour isn't helped by losing a game against a bloody awful Liverpool team. Even Rodgers couldn't hide from the outrageous fortune of two own goals, a quite bewildering array of misses (Leroy Fer's first chance suggests he couldn't hit a Taarabt from five yards) and a lively performance from Sleepy Sterling.

Harry insists he's not under pressure. Er... he is. When you're bottom of the league and your central defenders are running them into your own net from everywhere, you're in deep doo-doo. Word is he would have had Taarabt on the bench, but the subs at the other end of it were terrified of what might happen to them when the Moroccan sat down.

Meanwhile Garry Monk, whose Swansea team started so brightly, is incensed that the lack of a win since August is down to bad refereeing. Also, down to poor finishing, but hey let's not your team's inadequacies get in the way, eh? And it was one bad refereeing decision on Sunday, Garry. Moses went down like a tablet of stone and the ref bought it. The dolt. How could he?

Well, he bought it not just cos of crowd pressure but because Moses decided to try and con him. It's typical of the ridiculous hypocrisy that football perpetuates that a referee can be pilloried while the cheat is almost forgiven as it's 'part of the game'.

Not that Monk's forgiven him. Apparently the Swansea City team ethic is so squeaky-clean that players get bans for doing that sort of thing. We'll see - but it's nice to hear some proper condemnation of the dive.

Meanwhile mealy-mouthed Mark Hughes reckons that Shawcross didn't foul Bony, and that somehow poor Ryan's getting picked on after some intrusive analysis into aspects of the lad's defensive play. In other words, just because Shawcross holds onto attackers like a kid holding on to the handlebars during his first ever bike ride, he shouldn't be penalised.

Well, fact is, Sparky, he should. It doesn't happen, no. But it should. And in this case it did. Definite penalty kick. And Hughes took Shawcross out of man-marking duties after that which probably goes to show that if more refs gave such decisions, wrestlers like Ryan might be relieved of their duties more often.

Meanwhile, look at Arsene Wenger's interview with Jacqui Oatley. This is as close as you can get to watching Wenger call someone a total fucking idiot. Oatley asked searching questions that were effectively asking Le Prof 'Why aren't your team doing very well?' 'My God you still need a holding midfielder and a decent centre-back' and 'Are you saying you couldn't win cos they defended too much?'

Yes, these are the sort of polite and fair questions that are bound to incense a football manager, and Arsene responded by suggesting that the reporter - she - 'wasn't listening very well' and was asking incomprehensible questions. Petty France. Not dignified.

Yes it's a long time since Arsenal won that Community Shield, innit? It's a long time since Swansea were in the top three, And it's a long time since anyone got beat 8-0. (Save the best til last).

Gus Poyet actually mustered a reasonably controlled response to the hammering, given that Sunderland caved in like a bamboo bath chair beneath an elephant's arse. The Uruguayan confessed to utter embarrassment and admitted that there were some players who basically hid behind the furniture for the last twenty minutes.

Vito in happier times
Vito Mannone lived up to his appearance - his performance was as Gru-some as the other Despicable Mes in the team - but at least he's offering the fans their money back for a 700-mile round-trip of abject misery.

And that's the least he could offer, Frankly Southampton couldn't have had more freedom and space had they been offered an afternoon at a cabinet minister's country pile. Koeman sat there like a Dutch Buddha, smirking away and probably feeling none too troubled by the fact that he can no longer call on Lovren, Lambert and Lallana. Indeed why Brendan Rogers persists with Balotelli when honest Rickie sits on the bench in Taarabt-like inactivity is beyond me. People keep telling us how talented the lad is. Irrelevant! He's a lazy little sod. Lazy enough to get into Sunderland's first team.

PS Boro. 3rd. Just saying.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ricketty Rooney

It's hard watching England, almost all the time. But currently we have a new problem. The three lions are going to be up against five sets of donkeys. And given the lions are tired and toothless it's a bit like watching a veterans' match at the Coliseum circa 50 BC.

San Marino turn up first, the punchbags of international football. You'd be better off fielding eleven boxes of tissue paper. It's not their fault. The Most Serene Republic (and during previous clogging sessions against them I've wondered where all that serenity goes) is small and its team has two professionals in it. That, in short, is why they're shit. 5-0 is a pretty pathetic effort, but, you know, it's all about the three points at the end of the day and a clean sheet is always welcome.

(By the way this: 

doesn't make that seem like an achievement. In fact it just shows you how much assistance is required.)

Then came Estonia, one of a pair of utter Baltics that our boys must tackle. A bigger test, we're told. This team had achieved notable results against Holland and Italy in recent years and, well, there's more people live there than in San Marino.

They'll press hard and get two banks of four and it might be tricky. And two of their players are named after legendary circus performers Vunk and Pikk. In the end Estonia were bloody awful. They even helped by losing their best player with forty minutes to go.

And in return England got remorselessly worse and worse. It was a weird feeling watching them - a bit like waking up in a tent and realising that your airbed has got a slow puncture and having to lie there and accept that by the end of the night you're going to feel bloody uncomfortable.

Of course you can't really criticise the defence - except for Calum Chambers who, poor lad, is continuing the England manager's preference for playing centre-halves as right-backs. Jones, Smalling, Stones - they've all had a chacne to prove that they're not as good as Nathaniel Clyne and they've done it.

With any luck Chambers and Stones will form a dependable centre-back partnership in the future but, Jeez, Woy, pick a bloody right-back to play right-back.

I slated Wilshere last game but he looked much perkier last night, although he does have the odd dozy moment. Lallana did little to suggest that Oxlade-Chamberlain or Sterling shouldn't have started in his stead.

Up front we had the Danny Welbeck that can reduce you to ripping up telephone directories with your teeth. Little tippy-tappy balls that even Mr Magoo could see coming. Dispossessed so easily you'd think he was an eel trying to keep hold of a bar of soap. Just a terrifying turn of speed to worry the defence but keep him in front of you and you're laughing.

As for Rooney, well I've said it before but the lad - or dad if you're Jack Wilshere - is simply not all that good a player. Trouble is, we all thought he was when he was 17. It's not turned out that way.

Look he's not bad. That was a decent free-kick, even if the goalie dropped like a felled redwood before fumbling it in. But he missed a hatful and if that was Ronaldo, or Messi, or anyone who is extremely good, he'd be booking himself for serious counselling. Trouble with Wazza is, like Welbeck or even Sturridge, we're not surprised.

We should remember of course that here is a lad who earns sequescadillions of quids a week and is captain of Manchester United and England. And frankly it's debatable whether he should be in either side (bans permitting). There are times when he looks laboured in movement and thought and even the gifted right foot can't stop a football from escaping him like an unreined toddler in a shopping mall.

The trouble is, England still want him as a focal point and he's not up to it. As an out and out forward he's never reached the heights of his teenage years. There are better players in that squad - he knows it - and that's why his confidence is shot.

Still, you can't drop Dad, but you can, apparently, drop the stroppy tired teenager Raheem if he tells you he's like, you know, knackered. He's 19!!! How's he going to feel when he's 49? I've every right to wake up feeling cream-crackered.

Maybe that bouffant Pepe Le Peu job is a lot of weight to carry around? Or maybe he's got a manager urging him to keep his powder dry and that ain't Hodgson. Whatever it is, it's a ludicrous state of affairs and if he keeps belly-aching like that even Nigel Farage might suggest that we don't want to keep Sterling after all.

But any road, people, we've got several more of this grinding bores to get through. They'll tell us absolutely nowt about the team's capacity to progress in the tournament proper. (Mind you Capello's England qualified in rampant fashion, and then slid way like shite on a continental toilet when the real business began, so who knows?)

Suffice to say, it's nice to have some proper footy to watch at the weekend.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


How do. Been a couple of weeks and more and I can only apologise, unless you're among the ones who feel that the break has been quite a relief.

It's probably taken me that long to get over Middlesbrough's penalty shoot-out loss at the home of the honeymoon blues, Merseyside. Some of you might think it's exciting to be involved in such a major piece of football history. Bugger that. We lost. Folks used to say the same about Malcolm Nash (Glamorgan bowler hit for 6 sixes by Gary Sobers). It's the kind of recognition you don't want.

Still Merseyside is an eerily edgy location if you're a football fan right ow. On the one hand, there's Brendan Rogers, a man who looked for all the while like some kind of footballing saviour last season.

There he was galloping off with the Premier League title, a string of English steeds trotting in his wake, a bite-less bandito taking lumps out of the opposition in respectable ways (that was before the Spaghetti Chiellini of course). It was 25 years since Hillsborough too. There was a neatness, a poetry, a romance about the whole thing that most of us thought football had long since lost.

All of us, even me, were swept along in the wake of this inevitable outcome. And then came three goals in fifteen minutes at Selhurst Park and the whole edifice crumbled like so much team spirit in an English cricket team's dressing room.

Now the gaucho is grazing pastures new, and Brendan has armed himself with questionable replacements. Gerrard looks more and more like that other Scouse hero Red Rum. Soon there'll be the Anfield statue to welcome you and the real Gerrard will be moving slightly more slowly during the game.

I'm not having a pop, it's just the old fella's last hurrah isn't far off. Injuries haven't helped and you can tell how worried Rodgers is cos he won't allow Sturridge to have some shooting practice against San Marino - which is a bit like not letting your toddler play on the lawn cos of the sharpness of the blades of grass.

That rallying cry from last season 'We Go Again!'? It's been replaced by a somewhat crestfallen 'Here We Go Again...' Still at least they can beat Boro. After thirty bloody penalties.

Meanwhile the blue half are undergoing a transformation from swaggering speedy top-four fanciers to relegation dog-fighters. Those that worried that Martinez had arrived from a demoted club may about to be vindicated. There is something remarkably Wiganesque about Everton's defending at the moment.

Baines and Jagielka look a little scarred from being, well, a bit shit for England over the summer, and there seems little prospect of it getting better when Roberto is intent on keeping his better players on the pitch for the endless unappetising finger buffet that is the Europa League.

Indeed both clubs have not found the transition from  domestic competition to Europe and back again very easy at all. All right they're doing better than Man Citeh, but the list of crocks grows longer by the week and neither of them look like they have the energy to prosper in the League this season.

The sooner both leave the European adventure behind and get back to having a rest in the week the better.

Of course Chelsea don't seem to be too bothered by such distractions. But then they have a squad that's deeper than a Siberian lake and Mourinho's found a centre-forward. Frankly if they'd have had a number nine last year who could get on the pitch without trying his shoelaces together they'd be champions now.

Diego Costa is the difference, and one wonders how crocked he was for Spain during the World Cup for all the difference he made. Mind you he was feeding off tippy-tappy scraps there, whereas, with Fabregas and Hazard moving the ball much more quickly, here he's got time and space to pick his moment and when the chance arrives he finishes like Danny Welbeck... has done... once. Or maybe twice.

Chelsea look like they could be champs by Christmas, although there's always Man United. They're positively buzzing now they've got away with an offside and their keeper's diverted bullets like Wonderwoman used to.

(And let's pause there and think about Lynda Carter). 

What's certain about United, with Di Maria showboating like he's wandered out of the circus, Rooney hacking away at knees like his kicking the heads of dandelions, and the defenders looking like the're trying to find their way out of a maze, they ain't going to be dull.

And to be fair, entertainment allied to failure is a winning combination in this country. Look at Keegan's Newcastle. Redknapp's Spurs, Rodgers' Liverpool.  Barely won a thing between 'em. And we love 'em. Hell if Van Gaal can keep this up we might even warm to United a little.

And I guess we should spare a little thought here for Kevin Pietersen, a man who still clearly has no idea how he comes across. Here's a clue KP - when someone so ridiculously blessed with talent becomes dispensable, it's cos you're one heck of a knob. The fact that there are other pillocks in that dressing-room who aren't much better doesn't in any way validate your point-of-view.

By the way, Middlesbrough are a point off top-spot. Just saying.

Monday, 22 September 2014

In Defence of the Defence

Well the Premier League is more than living up to its reputation - not always earned - for entertainment. I've heard the word 'goal' uttered almost as often as the word 'Scotland' over the weekend.

(And by the way, thank you for voting 'No' and my sympathies for still being under the rule of the pompous, patronising pricks that pass for parliamentarians these days. Let us continue to suffer together.)

Jose Mourinho says the Premier League is 'crazy'. It's hard to disagree. Except Mourinho's comments, decorated by a smile full of smuggery, seem to be based on some eternal truths that appear to be time-limited.

So here are the new facts about Premier League footy.

1. Beating Manchester United is not what it used to be. 

The post-Fergie slump seems to have been ignored by everyone. It's only a matter of time before Normal Service Is Resumed. Just what is it about the past year of United performances makes people think it's going to change soon?

One 4-0 victory against a QPR side that was so standoffish against United that they looked like Downton Abbey toffs walking through the servants quarters, and United are 'rejuvenated', Which is like saying that one night off the booze makes you teetotal.

Now you may point to a good coach - and Van Gaal looks more and more like a man who spends his week hitting himself in the face with a frying pan (which, given his team's form, is almost certainly true).

You may point to £150 million worth of raw talent - but not of that is defensive nature. Indeed the Sighing Dutchman's persistence with a back three in which not one of the defenders involved has any authority whatsoever, is beginning to look suicidal. Yesterday, Leicester's admittedly ludicrous penalty kick led to defenders wandering around like daleks do when you've covered their eye socket over.

I mean it made Brazil's World Cup semifinal look, well, sensible. All that cash, and Louis couldn't coax Vlaar out of Villa to bark some orders at the other dimwits? Fact is, United may have extraordinary talent in whatever front five they put out, but the defense its as ever to pierce as microwaved clingfilm. There for the taking.

2. If You've Got Lots of Money You Should Play Entertaining Football 

At least that seems to be Manuel Pellegrini's take on the Chelsea performance at the Etihad. It is, of course, garbage. Mourinho proved last season that when it comes to taking on title rivals, he's the biggest brain out there. And more often than not he goes for a mean, niggardly charmless game-plan. And it works.

Now Pellegrini says it was like playing Stoke. Si, Manuel, and how did Stoke do the other week at your gaff? Ermmm... oh, they won 1-0. Two banks of four, or even five, work hard, hit em on the break. Works for Simeone at Atletico, it's worked for Mourinho when he's needed it. Perhaps Pellegrini needs to kick chaps like Yaya up the arse and get them to be a little more inspirational rather than blaming the negativity of others.

3. The Europa League's Gonna Kill You

Oh this bloody tournament is a total nightmare. Everton and Spurs come back from a Thursday night running their backsides off and both of them play terribly or at least tiredly, on a Sunday afternoon. This has happened year after year and for these two it's only going to get harder.

Martinez stated he wanted to win the tournament, which is tantamount to accepting midtable obscurity if you ask me. Why the Europa League needs to be such a bloating seventeen course banquet of none too appetising fare is beyond me. (Yes, just more coffers passing through UEFA's fingers, the coins reflecting in glints and glimmers off the faces of FIFA-funded wrist-watches).

But why not a straightforward knock-out tournament? And why do the also-rans of the Chamions League group stage get a free pass into this inferior competition. It's like being told that you've not got into the Michelin-starred kitchen but don't worry, KFC is looking for someone.

The fact is the squads that make it to this grim endurance test are usually a little too thin to maintain a challenge on all fronts. A knock-out competition would be fairer, and frankly better.

4. Possession isn't nine-tenths of the law

Perhaps Pellegrini thinks you're a small team if you don't get to have the ball much. Like, for example this weekend with West Ham (38% - won 3-1), West Brom (34% - won 1-0) or Crystal Palace (a staggering 24% - won 3-2).

Arsenal fans can tell you that just having the ball means nowt. Ever since coaches started to try and figure out how to beat Barcelona when the ball appeared in your possession with the frequency of Halley's Comet, how you play without it has become the trademark of a top side.

Don't get me wrong, I'd much rather watch Di Maria scoop a lob over a keeper while running at 25mph (that lad has a golf club for a left peg) than admire the dogged devotion to duty of Nemanja Matic, but the fact is stopping the opposition is becoming the most potent quality you can have in this league. Palace proved that last year.

Liverpool, Everton and Man U are really poor at the back right now. Poor Alan Hansen must be in bed with a fever, bless 'im. Chelsea, when they set their minds to it, are excellent at it. They can be ruthless and expressive up front, but when push comes to shove, Jose's got his Pulisian Plan B ready. And that's why, even now, you can't see anyone winning the title but them.

No wonder he likes it 'crazy'. It makes his 'sensible' look very good indeed.

Monday, 8 September 2014

England's Swiss Rollover

Well that's my Basel Faulty headline ruined. I'm not quite sure what to do with myself. It's like finding fifty quid in your old coat,

England have won a game, thereby enabling Roy Hodgson to have a better win record with England than he did with Switzerland. And what's more, they deserved it.

The Swiss, bar some shifty Shaqiri shimmies and the odd thundering challenge from their midfield bullock Behrami, offered very little, and England, on occasion, offered a great deal, mianly through the scary speedsters Sterling and Welbeck. In the latter's case it's hard to know what might happen when he gets it, but two goals suggests he's halfway there.

But hey, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. It's San Marino next. In the meantime, here's the scores for our heroes. (A polite ripple of applause).

JOE HART - 8 - Look, even if he drops every cross there's no one else to replace him. A couple of smart stops and does he look dashing with his hair relaxed?

JOHN STONES - 7 - Solid defensively after a horrible nutmeg early doors. Nowt going forward but then (a) He's a centre-back and (b) it's a bloody relief it's that way round after years of Glen Johnson.

GARY CAHILL - 7 - Brilliant clearance off the line after the linesman let Drmic - the walking eczema cream - go in on goal. Other than that, a solid enough effort. Never tremendous with the ball at his feet.

PHIL JONES - 6 - The usual mixture of buccaneering derring-do and bird-brained folly. Could have been sent off, might have scored, strained his thigh. He's not David Luiz, but he doesn't inspire much more confidence.

LEIGHTON BAINES - 7 - Looked like he might have got his mojo back. Neat, decent performance and not so exposed defensively.

JACK WILSHERE - 5 - I'm beginning to lose faith in Jack. Not available enough, too prone to giving silly passes. Unless everyone's playing tippy-tappy he looks lost. He'd be great ina five-a-side, but the lad doesn't seem to use his noddle, bless him.

JORDAN HENDERSON - 6 - Forgot he was there for the first half-hour. Had a strong second half, though, and he does work his arse off. In the absence of anyone else he'll do.

FABIAN DELPH - 7 - Early booking aside, he did really well. A top pick from Woy. Plenty of endeavour, a good turn of pace, and should of have a stonewall pen when Djourou drove into him like he was the Snappy Snaps to George Michael's SUV.

WAYNE ROONEY - 7 - Solid Wazza turn. Linked well with the younger faster lads and it looked like he wasn't trying too bloody hard for a change.

RAHEEM STERLING - 8 - a bit high I know, but he's 19, Ferrari-fast, Tyson-tough, and sometimes he cocks it up. So what? He's the best chance we have for a bit of forward thrust so I'll give him ten every time if he keeps leaving skidmarks on the defenders match-eve pyjamas.

DANNY WELBECK - 8 - Was going to give him 7 then he did that winning smile at the end. Bless. Two goals, pace galore, and the merest hint that a quality marksman lurks within those capricious boots. Then again, he's at Arsenal now. Walk it in, Danny, that's how they do things at the Emirates.

As for Roy Hodgson, well, Delph and Stones did him proud, the team looked far more solid defensively although when Switzerland did ping together a few rapid passes the heart of the defence looked open. Jones is a worry, but he's not exactly spoilt for choice is Roy. It was James Milner's 50th cap - that's how many options the poor bloke's got.

Wilshere isn't the holding midfielder - I'd like Carrick back in there if he's fit and willing. And Stones did fine but Clyne is the best English right-back around. That's bloody obvious, isn't it? Still onwards and upwards. The group's in the bag, France Allons-Nous. Keep playing like that and you never know we might just...

Oh shut me up, ffs!!!

It's just nice to have a little something to be pleased about.

(If we can just keep hold of Scotland I'd be dead chuffed. I wouldn't blame you, my Highland friends, it's just, well don't just leave us with Cameron. He's got to be one of yours with a name like that.)

Monday, 1 September 2014

Window of Woe

In the light of Roy Hodgson's record-breaking England squad announcement last week - the Worst Squad in Living Memory (and I'm including that couple who were celebrating their 80th wedding anniversary's memory) - it's interesting to note what's happening to the (one-time) 'best' English prospects at the moment.

Danny Welbeck seems destined to leave Old Trafford. Mind you, if he wants to go to a better team then there's plenty of choice at the moment. Micah Richards, yesterdays's England right-back for a generation, has been seen in Florence. Jack Rodwell is gracing the Stadium of Plight. Zaha's back at Palace.

Meanwhile those Englishmen still retained by their clubs, probably on the basis of UEFA's home-grown players legislation rather than any respect for their abilities, sit in idle splendour, doing fuck-all for a fuck-of-a-lot.

Scott Sinclair, more renowned for being the boyfriend of the ever-exposed Helen "put 'em away love" Flanagan than a professional person in his own right, is still at Man City. Josh McEachran has been loaned out so many times he's a Chelsea player in name only. From Boro to Arnhem; he's goes to all the glam places, that lad, and I think that Arnhem might be a bridge too far.

The call-ups for Colback and Rose are truly dispiriting. That barrel must be well and truly scraped now. Pardew says that some have called Colback 'the ginger Pirlo'. Good, Alan. And I'm sure someone will have called Alan Pardew the Cockney Clough once. If they're a twat.

It's not that encouraging that Jagielka, Milner and Johnson have been retained either. Injuries haven't helped Hodgson but we are truly in forlorn times as a national team.

It doesn't help, therefore, that Manchester United - once a bastion of bringing forward youth players and thrusting them into the fray - have seen fit to simply buy every mildly ambitious international superstar in the world game. Falcao's loan from Monaco underlines the fact. It's hard to make a case for even Rooney starting a game at OT now.

The only Englishman likely to get given a game by LVG soon will be Smalling or Jones - and that selection will be made on the toss of  a coin.

This is a transfer window that needs to close before those of us with an abiding if misplaced love of the England national team throw ourselves headlong out of it and dash our scrambled brains on the pavement beneath. The last time England were this bad, that Norwegian commentator launched into his 'your boys took a helluva beating' monologue. Thankfully, England open their autumn campaign with a friendly against... Norway. Shit.

But if there is an abiding memory of this particular August flogfest it will be the flock of football locusts that swept along the north coast of the Solent this August. A once-prosperous crop of flourishing seedlings lopped down and transplanted into new soil.

It'd be fascinating to ask Nathaniel Clyne (surely the best English right-back available at present) or James Ward-Prowse (a better bet than Colback) how they feel about still being at St. Mary's. Like survivors of some desperate military campaign they must occasionally ask themselves 'Why did I survive, and not the others?'

Morgan Schneiderlin, after a fine performance in Saints 3-1 victory at West Ham (and please God can the Hammers not drop down a division so that we're spared the relentless stodge of Allardyce's teams - they are the footballing equivalent of workhouse gruel) - yes, young Schneiderlin looked bewildered that he was still there too.

It would be nice, don't you think, for the bigger clubs to take a look at Southampton, see how they discover and develop such fine players, and ooh, I dunno, try and do the same thing themselves. Rather than just waiting for them to cough up a Bale or a Walcott or a Lallana.

While I've got me middle-aged man's munk on, forty years ago, the Saints would've kept that entertaining squad together and developed a team that would, within two or three years, have won something.

I've just begun reading 'The Unforgiven', the story of Don Revie's Leeds United. Revie started with bog-all, bar a curmudgeonly centre-back called Jack Charlton and a twinkle-toed malicious little sod called Billy Bremner. The rest of that simultaneously horribly brilliant, brilliantly horrible team was, with a few additions,
peopled by what UEFA would nowadays call 'homegrown talent'.

It couldn't happen today. Simply could not. Sadly, the Southampton squad, shorn of native talent but awash with cash, is loaded now with plenty of new talent, very little of it English. Or even British.

The fact that Ross Barkley has pledged his immediate future to Everton is a minor miracle. Then again, the overachieving fifth place is unlikely to materialise this season and then we'll see how limpet-like the lad's attachment to the club is.

Of course there's another reason that Hodgson's squad is so threadbare. There aren't enough decent and uninjured Englishmen available to bloody well fill the squad places. And there's a deeper malaise too. Why is it that talented teenage Englishmen barely get any better at the game as they get into their twenties.

Is Rooney better now than he was in 2004? What the hell has happened to Phil Jones, when as a 19-year-old at Blackburn he bullied the hell out of top opposition strikers? And will Andy Carroll actually walk again without pulling a groin? More to the point, will Sterling, Barkley, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the other few wither on the English vine or step up a level like Gareth Bale (NB not English)?

The transfer window simply illuminates the paucity of available English talent and the lack of interest the big clubs have in using them even if they are there. Manchester United's pre-season shopping is reminiscent of Abramovich's Chelsea when the money first came in. It's a kind of arbitrary purchase of anyone going, as far as I can tell.

And in all that spend. spend, spend there's only been one Englishman: Luke Shaw. And he's now in a squad with Rojo and Blind. And the manager doesn't rate his fitness. He's got bench-warmer written all over him.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Welcome to the Real World

While many were marking the 50th anniversary of Match of the Day last Friday by trawling through gloopy memories of days when it felt like more than two clubs might win the League, two things stuck out like sore thumbs. Firstly -  and as a man very sure-footed about which way he swings I can say this without fear of innuendo - wasn't that Alan Hansen a dishy-looking fella back in the day? Two, Hansen's equally confident assertion that 'You'll never win anything with kids' rang down the decades.

Well, I've won a few things with my kids: nothing tangible but it's opened the way to a few conversations with idle young Mums in the park that I wouldn't have started otherwise. Since my two have got older I've stopped hanging around them swings - you get the wrong sort of reputation.

But it's seems poignant on the morning after Manchester United were thrashed by MK Dons (a football team and not a middle-range gentleman's outfitters) 4-0 to ask whatever happened to United's production line of junior talent.

This morning Louis Van Gaal must have walked on to the training ground like a farmer who wakes up to find he's left the door to the coop wide open. All them pretty little chickens torn to shreds.

Okay, it was the League Cup, and Van Gaal predictably put out the B team, complete with a few children from the youth squad. The way they played, though, you'd think this was the Z team. Arsene Wenger does the same thing in this competition and never gets so utterly demolished by the lower ranks. (He tends to leave such humiliations for first team away fixtures).

Van Gaal insists this wasn't a shock for him. Presumably when he puts his fingers in a light-bulb socket he feels nothing. I'm sure it was a huge shock to Angel Di Maria. And don't be fooled Man U fans - just cos he called Angel doesn't mean he'll be supplying any divine intervention. Yes Di Maria has a lot of qualities but resurrecting the near-dead isn't one of them.

And actually, even by today's standards I would have thought £60 million for a talented but inconsistent winger seems a helluva lot to me. Adam Johnson would've cost a tenth of that.

There's one person in the country who I'm sure is finding it hard to resist a chipper little whistle as he trots down to the paper shop this morning: David Moyes. Oh yes, when LVG tells the press 'we're in a rebuilding process' I'm sure the Gollum-faced Chosen One nods sagely and mutters 'Good Luck with that one'.

Van Gaal has a track record of starting badly in his management role - Bayern nearly sacked him after three months before he turned it round. But this is altogether different. The Dutchman has not just been charged with turning around a huge oil tanker - he's first got to haul the bloody thing off its side and stop it gurgling gunk all over Old Trafford.

The back three so beloved of the manager is obviously going to take years to bed in. He's forgotten that he's given this new formation to a set of predominantly British centre-backs, who have always formed part of a pair. Indeed Jonny Evans played like a man who couldn't count past two last night. (Although I expect another impressive Arsenal striker on loan might have changed that when he made it 3-0. Arsene has Afobe and Campbell and still Sanogo's first in the queue?).

Of course, Welbeck and Hernandez aren't going to be starting many games ahead of Mata, Rooney, RVP and Di Maria but it makes you wonder what Van Gaal has in mind up front. You could see the 3-5-2 operating like Holland's in the World Cup, with Van Persie in the same mode and Di Maria doing a Robben impression. That would be the longest-faced front two in football history of course.

It would leave Mata prompting a la Sneijder and Rooney, the ever-flexible Rooney, being pushed one way or the other to accommodate these game-changers. It's evident that United's squad is going to be puddle-deep this season but if an understanding can be built between the forward players then they might just bring enough firepower to offset the glaring almost Brazilian sized holes at the back.

(By the way, I should of course have given MK Dons the credit they deserve after a fine performance. But one, the name still sticks in the craw of an old traditionalist like meself - 27000 fans would disagree I'm sure - and two, whether they like it or not, the story is how shit United were.)

But the fact is Van Gaal has not started well - far worse in fact than Moyes - he hasn't so much hit the ground running as hit the ground digging. And he may have a lot more of that to do before he find where to put his foundations. At least Moyes, theoretically at least, had an established first choice back four to pick.

And you know for all the glory of his tenure, I'd still lay much of this at the door of Alex Ferguson. When you hand on a torch to the next man it's best that the torch still burns brightly, rather than it sputtering away cos someone's just pissed on it.

Fergie did of course win the Premier League in his last season. That he did that is more miraculous than Liverpool's almost championship last season, or Sunderland's great escape. The reins he handed to Moyes were slippery as hell. Van Gaal hasn't even found where Moyes left them quite yet.

But, given that Alan Hansen's tenure at Match of the Day coincided with years of relentless and to most of us bloody irritating years of United dominance, this bleak period in Old Trafford's history is very welcome.

Yes, United fans, this is what it is like to be a regular supporter of a football club. You hope to goodness that your young local players might arrive fully-formed into a senior eleven and lift your struggling regulars to heights undreamt of. You hope that you too can win something with kids, that a Beckham and a Scholes, a Giggs and hell even a Neville are lurking in that youth team.

But as Hansen said, it doesn't really happen. Not twice any road.

So (barring spending 131 million quid in two months) Welcome to the Real World, Angel.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Robbo's Crystal Ball

For the first time ever I was unable to catch even a bit of Linekerian smirking on the first day of the Premier League season. I was camping - the tented kind - with the little 'uns and out of reach of all but the merest signal.

Nevertheless the car radio was somehow able to relay the delightful news that as far as Old Trafford is concerned it's Moyesery unconfined. Van Gaal's a great coach but you'd need Jesus Christ himself to turn the Man U piss-water into a decent claret during one pre-season. 

Happily, I've been able to digest this season's opening chapter at the Theatre of Dreams (and that is pretty all they can do right now - dream) and there are holes in that squad that makes a tramp's underpants look well put together.

Van Gaal's face is a landscape all of its own and I have a feeling we're going to get used to his strange Kenneth Clarke in the Hall of Mirrors countenance as he glowers through listless and scruffy performances for much of the next season. The man's not stupid - he's already told his employers that, in so many words, the squad's a bit shit. 

But this no time to gloat... it's time to put my Teesside tonsure on the line with me predictions for this season's Premier League. The first weekend has seen no one embarrassed, especially. The time will is fast approaching when an away point at Old Trafford will feel a little paltry. Indeed both Arsenal and Liverpool were a tad fortunate to scrape wins against plucky sides. But how will it pan out?

Here goes:


Too much of everything. It will depend a little on the fitness of Toure and Kompany, but even without Aguero there's plenty upfront to keep them nudging ahead. Even Dzeko's back-heeling into the path of sprightly midfield tinkers these days. First with more to spare than you'd think.


Mourinho's expected to make the magic work this season but I'm not so sure. Like an average high street, the team's frontage has been ripped out and replaced by a Costa. Fabregas, one-time Gooner wunderkid turned bit-part Barca boy, holds the key to the midfield, but even Jose can't cobble together the champions that quickly.


Look they've won something. On the tube in that London, they're advertising Arsenal stadium tours where you can 'see the FA Cup'! No underplaying the value of that goblet at the Emirates eh, Arsene? Sanchez will help, they're awash with terrific attacking midfielders, natch, but one clobberer wouldn't harm em. Tiote has been mentioned. That's clobbering with knobs on.


No Suarez. Then again, he wasn't always around when he was a Liverpool player. I've heard it suggested that they'll cope. Erm, they won't. Any more than a yacht copes on a motorway. But they'll get 4th.  And when Luis eats an entire arm of Sergio Ramos they'll realise it could have been worse.


Van Gaal's too cute a dictator to allow United to potter blindly into more oblivion, but it's going to be a slow start and they'll pay for that. Van Persie, Mata and Rooney are sure to click at some point but at the other end there's barely anyone you could properly call a defender.


You can't help feeling that an either/or of Soldado (great nose, but not for goals, sadly) and Adebayor (as stroppy a madam as there is in the competition) might just trip 'em up but Pocchetino knows how to coach and that means they'll improve on the erratic, partially successful and patently undermined Tim Sherwood. Not that they'll get higher than 6th. Plus they have Europa League nonsense to thrash around in.


Martinez has done his best to reel in some decent signings but pre-season wasn't all that clever. Be interesting to see which Lukaku shows up - the lumbering clodhopper that Belgium discovered or the bulldozing hitman that he became when on loan. Then there's the Europa League. It's a punishment for finishing 5th I tells ya.

From here on in it's a blinking lottery. You can make a case for all of them going down. Still someone's going to punch above their weight so it may as well be...


Yes, I know they lost at home to Villa but Sparky had em working okay and I'd like to see the ball on the grass attitude rewarded. Look I know it doesn't make sense but neither did Sunderland getting safe last year. It's a funny game is foot..blah blah blah.


Koeman knows what he's doing. Always liked the bloke. We had so much in common. Apart from ability. Southampton looked good at Anfield and if he can keep what remains of the decimated squad he'll get 'em playing well.


If Pardew can keep his head - out of people's faces - then you can see the Geordies getting a bit of stability too. I like the look of the Pepe la Peu looky-likey Riviere and they should have enough up front to just about make the top half.


The crisp-eaters were seriously good last year and I think they'll be bleeding hard to beat this year. There's nowt much to worry about if you're the opposition but then you'd have said the same about Palace last year.


If you are asked to write out a list of Premier League teams form memory, Hull would be the last one you'd think of. And that probably goes for people who live in Hull. They've looked pretty stable under Brucie, mind. The scruffy win at QPR is the type of thing they're getting good at.


Miraculous escape last season, surpassed by that rarest of things, a Lee Cattermole piledriver. Poyet should have a bit of continuity now, and if Rodwell doesn't get a nosebleed playing first team football they'll cope okay.


Encouraging start for the Swans. I'm very surprised no one's popped up for Bony, and how misnamed is that fella? Bony, Bonny, whatever, he's a top striker. I'm somewhat gobsmacked that Spurs let Sigurdsson go and kept Paulinho. Like keeping an ass and selling a stallion. Monk seems a good lad so I hope Swansea will be fine.


I kind of hope I'm wrong here. Big Sam has been urged to play a more diverting brand of football by his paymasters, but it's like encouraging sloths to go jogging. Allardyce has his way. And it works, sort of. So dull as it is, they'll still be around this time next year. Just don't wake me up if he's still there too.


Look, Baggies fans, the idea that midtable obscurity awaits you is preposterous. You're West Brom. Up and down like an adolescent todger. Alan Irvine is an unknown quantity, but not as mysterious as the stripeless kit. What the hell was that? It looks like a shirt that's pretending to be a club shirt, summat you'd buy for your local kiddies team. 16th, but on goal difference. Naturally.


Lambert deserves relegation. He's bought Phillipe Senderos. That's trying to mend a hole in your roof by putting another hole next to it. They sort of somehow stay above the water but I'm mystified by how, If Benteke returns at his unplayable best, well they'll survive comfortably. But I think they'll struggle, especially while behind-the-scenes no one's giving Randy the eye. 

18. QPR

Of course this shouldn't happen, The R's still boast a pretty good squad on paper. But I'm getting the feeling Arry'll tire of 'em being so crap on the pitch. Rio looks a good buy in theory but the lad's getting comfy on the couch these days, and that back could do without comfy sofas. Somehow they'll blunder into the drop zone and stay there. 


If fight and attitude and getting in their faces could win you footy matches, Burnley would already be safe, Dyche is a great motivator but pound for pound they've got the weakest squad and it'd be a triumph for them to get 40 points. I hope they do. But they wont. 


No Pulis, nil points. He was the manager of the year last year, and there is no better organiser of football teams in the country. The performance at the Emirates was hugely encouraging but as Palace have studiously avoided buying anyone of note, you can't see progress being made. A disastrous start to a quietly disappointing season. 

And that my friends is the future. Now if I've predicted good things for you boys get down to the boozer and knock back some serious downbeat single malts. If I've only foreseen trauma, crack open the champagne.

As for the Boro, I haven't got a bloody clue. At times we look fine then we lose at Leeds. Who the hell knows?

Best of luck to the lot of you. Except you and you. You know who you are. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Gunner Be Good?

The Community Shield. It sounds like something the Americans might sell to Israel, or hand out to a veteran law-enforcer in some dodgy bit of downtown Detroit. It is in fact a meaningless piece of football entertainment which was fine when it was called the 'Charity Shield'. After all, every sort of nonsense can be passed off as entertainment if it's done for charity. Which of course this still is. So the name-change has always been a tad baffling.

Although now it's supported by McDonald's, the world's most famous purveyors of a Healthy Lifestyle.

But I'm being too grouchy about all this aren't I? It's a lovely old traditional curtain-raiser to the season. Or the last game of pre-season if you're Manuel Pellegrini. Nothing to do with the real business of winning trophies but a cheery enough afternoon in the sunshine and a chance for fans of title-winning clubs to come down to London to collectively gloat in public once more.

This Community Shield felt different though, somehow. Maybe it was the aching feeling I had for the resumption of football hostilities following that cracking World Cup. (Although that was more than somewhat sated by Boro's consummate despatch of last season's gallows-dodgers Birmingham City.)

But perhaps it was more that on this occasion one team seemed ever so desperate to win it. Wenger's men played like men whose ship has finally come in; men who have returned to the pawnshop to reclaim the trinkets they left there nine years ago. They were determined, focused and, but for Sanogo, neat and tidy.

Sanogo still looks constantly surprised to find the ball at his feet. And when he does find it, he looks like a man shaking a snarling Jack Russell off the flares of his trousers. He's very un-Arsene.

Still even his clumsy contributions worked out and the Gunners looked good from front to back... Sanchez is a good fit, Cazorla looked relieved to not be playing with that atrocious Spanish team (I mean if they were my national team I'd... I'd be bloody delighted, frankly) and Aaron Ramsey is now a fully-fledged box-to-box, heart-and-soul, midfield maestro of the type these isles very rarely have the pleasure of producing. Indeed you can pretty much chart the best bits of Arsenal's last season according to young Aaron's availability.

Citeh, meanwhile, played like a bunch of holidaymakers assembled for a beachfront kickabout. Pellegrini betrayed almost no interest in the fixture. Hardly any of the first-teamers played. (Well apart from Yaya of course, whose off-season negotiations regarding his next birthday party are in an advanced stage as I understand it.)

Lampard watched from the terraces, in order to get used to his role in domestic fixtures. Fernando looked like another of them half-bit Brazilian holding midfielders that have polluted world football recently - in fact I forgot he wasn't Fernandinho most of the time. Silva, like Santi unburdened by tacky tika-taka, prompted a bit of a revival in the second half but by then the damage was done.

As for Willy Caballero, well far from being the Mexican porn star I had assumed he was, he turned out to be a decent enough keeper who couldn't have down owt to have prevented the goals.

Citeh's central defence looked rather flaky without the comforting presence of Kompany but it was ever thus and maybe this lad Mangala will be an answer given that Demichelis can be a tad creaky and Nastasic still looks raw. Boyata's presence in the squad at all is as deep a mystery as the continuing employment of Phillipe Senderos as a professional footballer.

It was good to see Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards get a run-out but I think that might be it for the season, boys. Quite why your agents aren't hawking you from Torquay to Tallahassee is beyond me. I'm mighty pleased that Jack Rodwell has hauled his sorry ass off the Etihad seating. These two should take his advice and do the same.

But it was hard, even in what is always a redundant fixture, not to be impressed with the Gooners. Wilshere was bright and breezy but please God will the lad stop falling over? Half the time he looks less like a footballer and more like some urchin who can't quite get off a bouncy castle.

Wenger's squad looks deeper, with the Germans still to return. That might make them less prone to getting utterly tonked in the first 45 minutes of games. They might well be eyeing what Liverpool did last season and thinking: 'We too might be able to get ourselves into a winning position and utterly fuck it up at Crystal Palace'.

But can they win the title this year? Really? Well it puts them in the mix, and with Liverpool's pre-season going brilliantly, Chelsea armed with new signings, including a proper centre-forward this year, and United under the stewardship of a dastardly Dutch dictator, it might even be closer than last year.

But remember, it's very silly to draw any conclusions from a Community Shield match. Why this time last year, David Moyes was smiling contentedly at the capture of his first bit of silverware as a manager. Ha! Yes, in a way he did win something. Bless.

I'll save the full list of predictions for next week but suffice to say that regardless of what happens on an August day in the sunshine, the Premier League title will be Man City's to lose for a few years to come.

Monday, 14 July 2014

What a Bloody Brilliant World Cup, Eh?

Well done the Fatherland!! Congratulations on winning the World Cup and being the best team int the whole competition. That was a handsome game to finish proceedings too: pass and move v hold and break, with the right team nicking it.

A German victory is always the cue to reviving some well-worn cliches. Efficient, organised, ruthless... there's an insinuation behind those words that we all understand - in other words, a footballing version of what Adolf Hitler wanted to do.

All right it doesn't help when Joachim Low says his team will rule football for years to come but... Enough already! This a team that despite its talent fell short in every tournament since 2002 (when they overachieved). Far from vorksprung durch technik - although a damn sight better than our lot. It's been a while a-coming but they have fostered and trusted their youthful talents, brought through intelligent players capable of interchanging and thriving in the process: look at Lahm, Muller, Schurrle, Gotze... thrilling, inventive, and - even in the midst of totally humiliating Brazil - respectful and humble.

They've been a great team in the making and we'll have to put up with them being this entertaining for a quite a while to come.

So, before a defeatist melancholia kicks in and we're left to pick over the debris of British sport for signs of life, let us dwell a little longer on an utterly brilliant tournament. I have enjoyed every minute of it, save for Iran v Nigeria and that bloody awful tentative semi-final between Argentina and Holland.

So here are the genuine winners of the awards that count:

Player of the Tournament: James Rodriguez. Obviously. Six goals, one a minor masterpiece, the other utterly sumptuous. Relentlessly positive, even during the Brazilian bundle he withstood in the quarter-finals. Not Lionel Messi. We know what Messi can do and it's a lot more than what he did. It's like rewarding Sir Christopher Wren for designing a garden shed. There was so much more he could've come up with!

Goal of The Tournament: I dunno James's goal was magnificent but for sheer pictorial wonder I still love Robin Van Persie leaping up like a Great White Shark pouching a seal to drop that header over the hapless Casillas. Staggering.

Golden Gloves: And here I have to agree with Mark Lawrenson - this is the worst trophy I have ever seen. It looks like it's been snapped off the arm of C3PO. Neuer the rightful winner although again I will remember more the saves of one Guillermo Ochoa, who I swear saved at least two point blank efforts with his bollocks.

Team of the Tournament: Neuer; Lahm, Thiago Silva, Hummels, Blind: Mascherano, Kroos, Rodriguez, Messi; Robben, Muller.

Runner-Up Team of the Tournament: Ochoa; Zuniga, Gonzales, Vlaar, Vertonghen; Schweinsteiger, Schurrle, Neymar, Rooney (heh-heh-heh... sorry, I've just made myself laugh too much... gimme a moment....) Not Rooney... ermm, Cuadrado, Sanchez, and oooh, I dunno, Muller again given the bloke can play wherever and it's like having two men on the pitch any road.

[NB Okay it might be tricky to have Zuniga and Neymar in the same side, plus there are better times to consider making Neymar part of the spine of your team but hey this is my B team.]

Dumbkopfs XI
A side chockful of hopeless nanas who really could have done with some aversion therapy pre-tournament to avoid some of their dopier moments.

Iker Casillas - a career full of glitter slides down the shitter. Del Bosque was horribly guilty of the crime of blind faith. Or loyalty if you want to be kind. As Iker made howler after howler Del Bosque failed to turn his old basset-hound jowls in the direction of his substitutes, in particular David De Gea, who David Moyes had ensured had had a busy and effective season. Madness.

Glen Johnson - probably a tad unfair but he's not up to it is he?

David Luiz - all the positional sense of a kitten in a dog pound, the appearance of a startled sheep, and the calm composed rationale of Justin Bieber. Luiz is an accident waiting to happen. Indeed the reason Thiago Silva makes my team of the tournament is cos of the way Brazil played without him. Luiz was the skipper who kept on sailing that boat into the rocks. PSG (Perhaps Sanity's Gone) are paying £40 mil for him.

Pepe - which is Portuguese for 'short fuse'; no one much like Muller's play-acting but when you could wind a bloke up this easily why not try? I use to have a p[air of Pepe jeans a while back and if I remeber rightly I used to get irrationally angry every time I put 'em on. Twerp.

Marcelo - Another muppet from Madrid. Yes, he gets up that flank and causes a 'real threat' but it's almost always to the people cover his over-adventurous arse. A terrible tumbler and play-actor too. Cack.

Steven Gerrard - look I like the bloke too, and I'm sure the younger lads in the squad can learn a lot from him but he was pretty bloody awful in is pitifully brief stay and he needs to stand aside. I mean, thanks and all that, but enough already.

Alex Song - Wasn't there a time when this bloke was half-decent? He spent the tournament trotting about like a demented cyborg, screws coming out of his ears. Maybe watching all that tika-taka has driven him hat-stand n all.

Xabi Alonso - perhaps responsible for one of the worst central midfield displays of the competition against Chile. When a skilled craftsman like this loses his bearings you can see just how desperate Spain were.

Gonzalo Higuain - another of these blokes who seem somehow to have been bracketed amongst the best without really ever having been any good. His glaring miss in the final was entirely predictable. He runs around like someone has chained him to a post.

Fred - fuck me where do you begin? They could've put a cardboard box upfront and you wouldn't have noticed the difference.

Luis Suarez - ah what does he care? He could eat his way through the Spanish Royal Family and he'd still get a gig at a huge club on a massive wage. I  think - and I'm absolutely serious despite the mocked-up humorous pics that did the rounds - that Barca should make the bloke wear a mouth guard or a scold's bridle or some such to stop him from harming others.

Honourable mentions go to Hulk (footballing wardrobe, minus the subtlety) Paulinho, Palacios, Djourou and the blokes running Ghana's shambolic campaign.

But these freaky sideshows can't detract from the best World Cup ever. The hosts have somehow mustered a triumph from the powder-keg formed by mixing social unrest with abject footballers. And for that they deserve great credit. What's more it was a torunament where fans of opposite persuasions nestled side by side in hassle-free enjoyment. It was, like Gotze's immaculate Bergkampesque winner, almost unreal in its glory.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

La Jogo Feia

Reality Bites. 

What do they call it? Jogo bonito? The beautiful game? Well last night the well-past-it mother country lifted up her skirts and the truth made really rather unpleasant viewing. 

When Germany tonked us 4-1 four years back, we could always point at Lampard's ghost goal and say 'Who knows?' When Holland hammered Spain in the first game here, the Spaniards could always point out that had David Silva stroked home a second then Spain might still be in with a shout of four out of four this weekend. 

Brazil don't even have the tiniest wisp of solace in this defeat. Nada. As that great language mangler Glenn Hoddle might have put it "They've been left clutching at the final straws in the wind." (Why Glenn has such an awkward relationship with English is difficult to fathom although I'll hazard a guess that it's got something to do with poor behaviour in a previous life). 

I really didn't want Brazil to win this tournament. Not cos I've got anything against the nation itself, or the way they've hosted the tournament in neglect of its poverty-stricken (hell, every nation does that when hosting a big tournament). Indeed the pre-match singing of their wonderfully preposterous operatic chorus of an anthem, the overwrought emotions the players have shown, notably when holding up the shirt of the one player capable of maintaining the national traditions of their football - all of this almost made me want them to go all the way. 

No, it's only when they started to actually kick the ball, and their opponents, around the park that I actually realised I wanted them to lose. They've been bloody awful. Really bloody awful. Their journey to the semifinals seems like a work of fiction now, or a cruel delusion that a fine German side took 29 minutes to shatter. The team looked like a happy drunk who woke up in a ditch to find he was being pissed on from a great height. 

So, good, a crap team have not won the World Cup. But it's a terrible shame that that team should have carried the name Brazil. There's a poetry to those great names from the past: Zagalo, Garrincha, Vava, Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Socrates, Eder, Zico, Falcao, Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho... This lot have been personified by Hulk, Fred and Jo - lumpen, blokey names you'd give to the regulars down a local pub in Doncaster. Except them boozers might have played better. 

I know German supporters who started to look away, who couldn't even begin to gloat, as Khedira rolled in the fifth. Every time they started to enjoy it, the camera would cut away to another crying child, looking for all the world like a promotional campaign for the NSPCC, and all the triumphant Germans could feel was guilt. 

But hey, you can only beat what's put in front of you - or in the case of the Brazilian defence, some way behind you - and Germany did it with class and elegance. I know there are commentators still encumbered by watching too many war films who saw their performance last night as 'clinical' and 'ruthless'. Shut up, now. It was utterly beautifully brilliant was what it was. 

Of course, as many suspected, the biggest miss was Thiago Silva, not least cos when consigned to the stand with a ridiculous, if sincere, baseball cap on his head he looked less like the second best central defender in the tournament and more like an over-sized kid on a jolly at Disneyworld Florida. 

Juninho, and by the way little man it was never this bad at the Riverside, said there may be some out there who will never wear a Brazilian shirt again. Well here's a list, mate: 

Julio Cesar (he came, he swore, he got conquered);

Maicon (he sounds like an enemy of Dan Dare, plays like a friend of Dandini);

Marcelo - a joke of a player, like somehting created by Pixar - diving, whining and easier to avoid than Bulgarian jazz-funk. Hopeless; 

Paulinho - the epitome of what a Brazilian midfielder has become, pedestrian, clumsy, witless;

Fred - Here's what he's good at [                                                                                                         ] He's the worst Brazilian I've seen since the wife took up a two for one offer with her sister fro a beauty parlour that shall remain nameless in Stockton-on-Tees. I thought that rash'd never clear up.

Hulk - big, strong, shit. 

Jo - No! 

I don't much for Dani Alves either. And as for David Luiz, well he's a conundrum isn't he? Great passer, great passion, great free kicks, but Great Scott what is the bloke doing halfway up the pitch when the Germans have just gone 4-0 up? 

So how do Brazil proceed from here on in? Look at your opponents - promote the next generation as soon as possible, retain Neymar - who I'm beginning to think broke his back because of the strain of carrying the rest of the team around the country for five games - and keep em together until they can ally their flair with a calm game-playing authority. 

Because for all that Brazil were pants, Germany were faultless for 90 minutes - and Neuer was furious that Oscar nabbed a late consolation in the 91st minute (I say 'consolation' but given that Oscar was inconsolable afterwards that's completely the wrong word). 

They have the best keeper, right-back, centre-half, centre-midfielder and roving false number 9-cum-winger in the tournament. And that's a conservative estimate. Clearly they are favourites for the final but who might they have to beat on Sunday?  

One carefully aimed De Jong patella in the small of one Lionel Messi's back might be all it takes for Holland to win. It's certainly going to be a much tighter affair, with both teams thriving off good defensive organisation. Word is that Van Persie has gut-rot which means that the Dutch might be over-reliant on the tripping slaphead trickster, Robben. And that might be enough. 

So I'm going for an Argentina win, somehow. 1-0. After a bit of a grind for the neutral. A proper semifinal in other words. With two evenly-matched teams. As they say in Brazil it will be a case of the 'Jogo Feia'. (I think). 

And yes, Germany to win the final, whoever makes it. And for once I won't be remotely unhappy about it. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

The Lying Dutchman

Arjen Robben has looked like a fleet-footed sixty-five year-old ever since he arrived at Chelsea a decade ago. A mazy, tricksy, old-school winger he was, in the last Jose Mourinho team that could ever have been called entertaining. Some of us were hugely impressed with everything he did, and at the time Chelsea's designated diver was Didier Drogba so we hadn't seen him at his worst.

But no player spends ten years in the game without learning a thing or to. Arjen is now just about the most terrifying attacking player any defender left in the World Cup can face. Only Messi is as dangerous running with the ball at his feet. 

However, there's an additional peril when Robben comes bob-bob-bobbing along the edge of the penalty area. Will the scrawny dancing pensioner throw himself to the floor like some hoodlum has just knifed him and swiped his shopping trolley? Erm... yes. Yes, he will. Almost certainly. 

Robben's simulation is so ingrained now I wouldn't be surprised if he's the only man on the planet who could successfully fake an orgasm.  Referees are of course wise to his skulduggery, but unfortunately he is the sort of player who is likely to get fouled by defenders struggling to contain his pace and footwork. So it's hard for the officials. 

Indeed the winning penalty against Mexico probably was a foul, although not one that deserved the now ubiquitous chest-out, arms flailing, Munck's The Scream-faced histrionics that go along with every infringement against the Lying Dutchman. 

This time the perpetually fallen idol has admitted that yes, he did do a dive in the game and that he can only apologise for it. Which, given this bloke's track record, is like stealing a million quid and admitting to £10 worth of it. 

Regular readers will know this is a HUGE FUCKING BUGBEAR of mine and has been since the Gelled Tumbler of Madeira stumbled onto the green fields of England - actually since Francis Lee hurled his tubby frame into the quagmires of Maine Road and the Baseball Ground in the 1970's. 

The debate rages as to what we can do about this. The most facile argument put forward by pundits - particularly those of the forward variety - is the conclusion that if after viewing the slow-mo footage from thirty-seven thousand angles it becomes plain that 'there was contact' then the forward is, apparently, entitled to go down. 

In other words, no one can blame you for pretending that a waft of an eyelash has deprived of the ability to behave normally. It's like the response of some particularly neurotic wife during divorce proceedings. "He had his hand on her arm, so I'm entitled to deduce that there was a full-blown affair going on." 

Another way of looking at this, and Marquez is being accused of being dim-witted in the Holland-Mexico game, is that 'if you leave your foot in, someone will go over it'. So as a defender your best bet with Robben when he's in the box is to get the fuck out of the way and hope he misses (either the goal or your innocent withdrawn tootsies). 

If you do get lazy about this, you defenders, then, well you know, even though most able-bodied people learnt to walk when they were fifteen months old and have coped pretty well ever since, you can't expect a footballer to remember this fact once he moves into that treacherous place we all know as the penalty area. 

On behalf of 90% of viewers I hereby say this to any Costa Rican centre-back. As far as I'm concerend tou are ENTITLED to make as much CONTACT as you damn well like on Arjen Robben cos it doesn't matter whether you get him or not, he's going down. 

So with all this mealy-mouthed excusing of what is essentially a determination to buy a decision from the ref using years of cynically obtained nous, it's now over to FIFA to try once more to apply some sort of moral code to the situation. Yep once again football is caught between the cross hairs of FIFA and Fair Play. (Hilarious, isn't it? If the bidding procedure to host their bloody tournaments could operate fairly that might be a start.)

Any hoo, as I've said TOO MANY TIMES before, there is one thing the overseers of the beautiful game could do immediately. Retrospective bans for divers. Every serious incidence of cheating or foul play that officials miss during the actual game can be punished retrospectively. Only simulation seems to have a special place in the administrators foetid hearts. 

Oh we can all tell nasty biting gauchos to take four months off: eating people is wrong, and certainly not part of the fabric of football. But diving...? Well, you know, everyone does it, don't they? Yes, they bloody well do, but let's not let them. All right you can't change the result of the game that's gone, but you can at least mitigate against it becoming the way to win the next one.

Here's option 1: (the cowardly option)
Robben starts the next game with a yellow card to his name. Even the remotest bogus stagger and he's off. job done. 

Option 2: (a better option)
Give Robben a retrospective red card for the dive he admitted to. And ban him for three games. He'd be out of the tournament. Holland would be scuppered. Job done. 

Option 3: (I've touted it before and I think it might be the best of the three)
If a player is proven to be, or admits to being, a diver, they should dress like a diver - wetsuit, mask, snorkel, flippers, the whole nine yards... and then they still have to play the next game. As my old man used to say, there's nothing wrong with that lad that a bit of public humiliation couldn't put right. 

And of course, the biggest sadness is that, if you took the falling over out of Robben's game he'd be the best player in the tournament up to now (yep, including Lionel and the Baby-Faced Colombian). The fact that he so regularly cheats makes him one of the worst. 

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Nothing But The Tooth

So if - and more reasonably when - Luis Suarez is found guilty of biting an opponent for the third time in his professional career, what might be the best way to proceed for FIFA? (Given FIFA's recent track record the idea that it should have any sort of moral authority is laughable, but we'll gloss over that shall we? Unless of course we can leave Luis and Sepp in a locked room for 48 hours and hang - or enjoy - the consequences.)

But seriously what are the options?

1. Remove Suarez's teeth entirely.

2. Make Suarez wear one of those face guards you give to dangerous dogs - and if you want him to keep playing that's not as dumb as it seems. Humiliating, yes but stupid? No.

3. Insist that opposing centre-halves wear proper bite-proof protection. Although that argument works a bit like the one that says that girls in mini-skirts are just asking for it. Perhaps the Uruguayans might make that point. I mean,  if these svelte-shouldered Italians run around in their slinky blue tops, just begging to be nibbled, it's not Luis's fault, is it?
4. Give him a guest role on the UK tour of Dennis the Menace.

5. Ban him for at least a year and tell him to go and get serious psychological help. Small children often go through a biting phase but as far as I can tell they get over it by three years of age - the only exceptions being Luis Suarez and Hannibal Lecter and one of those is fictional. (It's Lecter by the way, Suarez does actually exist.)

Whatever happens, it'd be nice if close colleagues, enchanted by his footballing brilliance, could actually get their fingers out of their arses and condemn the toothy twat when he's done something like this. Or is pure talent enough to permit you to get away with anything?

If I were Sepp Blatter, and let's face it with enough money, brass neck and indifference to human suffering we all could be, I'd be banning the bloke for life. He's had so much support with his problems and quite simply the man's a serial offender. If he were a dog, he would be put down by now. The fact that he's a human being might make us a pity him a little as he's clearly a bit bonkers and that's not his fault. But you can't let him carry on doing this.

So come on FIFA. Make a stand. This man needs forcibly retiring before he eats someone.

Mind you, I can't help secretly wishing he'd been close enough to bite Phil Jagielka with five minutes to go against England. Which brings us on to the toothless final showing against an uninterested Costa Rica. Costa Fiver as I called them before the tournament started. What a chump I look now.

But it's a tad unfair to belittle that goalless draw. You can blather on all you like about getting back a bit of pride but those players were already going home so there was nowt to play for. If I'd made eleven employees redundant I'd hardly expect them to put in a proper shift on their last day at work.

Much is being made of England's apparent pool of young talent but that very youthfulness seems to have recently retired pros trembling like leaves for the future of the national game. I'm not quite sure why we need the likes of Gerrard and Lampard to hang around being not quite as good as they once were if they simultaneously keep aspiring players out of the team.

I hope they both, with gratitude for their long-standing but ultimately fruitless efforts, retire gracefully. If the next generation are to thrive they don't need to be dependent on tidy old pros, unless they stick around to offer a bit of wise counsel every now and then.

The flaws in the England team are not exactly difficult to identify. The defence is hogwash. Johnson couldn't protect stop a bath from overflowing and Jagielka and Baines are not quite up to it even if the formation didn't help them. Gerrard and Henderson are not great protectors of a back four - indeed the one player who should've been on the plane (and this is ironic since I've lambasted him in the past) was Michael Carrick, who is at least used to defending in that position.

Upfront, Sturridge isn't the finished finisher either and had he been we might well be sitting at home talking up our teams chances of turning over Colombia, or even Greece. But he's worth persisting with in the absence of others.

What I still insist was good to see was a lot of intelligent running off the ball and interchanging of position by England's front four, regardless of the personnel. The final ball was lacking - which is pretty crucial I admit - but that will improve if and only if these players keep getting picked.

Personally I don't think England were 'humiliated' in this tournament. They did about as well as we thought they would when they got there. This England team is average but can get better.

Here's a team to start the next game:
Hart, Flanagan, Cahill, Stones, Shaw, Carrick, Wilshere, Barkley, Sterling, Sturridge, Rooney. (Lallana or Oxlade-Chamberlain could start happily enough in that midfield too. Jones might yet come through if only bleedin' Man U would play him at centre-back!)

Obviously you'd have to insist on little refinements within that line-up. Wilshere only plays if he stops falling over. Sturridge can't miss three sitters and expect to retain his place. None of them get to do shoddy TV ads when they've done nowt to earn the right. And we give a naïve back four the right to fail every now and then, given that the more experienced one was pants anyhow. And give Ross Barkley a chance, too.

Indeed the likes of Sterling and Barkley wouldn't even have made this tournament were it not for Martinez and Rodgers's willingness to give youth its head. Surely they have to be retained, encouraged and forgiven before they can really improve our chances.

Which is the opposite of what we should do with Suarez. To the kennels with him!! Bad dog, BAD DOG!!!

Friday, 20 June 2014

Oh, bollocks..

Ah England, my England.

Every defeat is harder to take than the last. And this one wasn't so much deflating as a lit match to the R101 of our dreams.

I'm not quite sure why we had to get back to 1-1, just at the point when the pub was full of collective shoulder-shrugging. The fact that the pilloried Rooney should be on the end of it only added to the rush of optimism. In that ten minutes between 1-1 and 1-2 all sorts of encouraging thoughts began to play in our minds:

Glen Johnson just did a really good thing.
We have a better goal difference than Uruguay, they've got to play Italy.
At least we've avoided some horrible accommodation between Uruguay and Italy in their last game now.
Just imagine the confidence boost that's given Wazza. He can really start to express himself now.
I bet them Uruguayans are regretting all that time-wasting and faffing about they were doing earlier on in the half.
In fact, bugger the draw we can have these!!

But you forget, oh so quickly, that this is not how we do things. What we do is forget to keep an eye on the only player we need to keep an eye on, and the toothy little bastard nails us for the second time.

Now I don't want to be one who fails to give credit where credit is due. I have struggled and fought and strained to embrace this more embraceable version of Luis Suarez. But the bugsy, wrist-kissing, piss-taking Serb-biting, floor-tumbling sneak is back in my bad books. Only this time it's for being far too good.

Of course I was too keen to listen to the pundits, those recently retired know-alls who assured us all that Luis couldn't be anything like ready to do any damage cos he's only got one functioning knee. 'Scuse me, gents but that must be the same dodgy knee that roundly twatted the nation in its collective bollocks last night.

Maybe Phil Jagielka was lured into the same misconception. But that winner was utterly nightmarish. Schoolboys up and down the country have been outraged to discover that they are being accused of being that naïve. Danny Murphy says that if John Terry was playing that would never haver reached Suarez. Ah maybe. But four years ago, Terry was left looking like a donkey in a treadmill while Germany made a jackass out of him.

You might say England were a bit unlucky. Godin should definitely have been removed from the park and he's the best defender they have. But that's as far as it goes. They had chances, didn't take them and couldn't defend when it mattered.

So, what next, lady and gentlemen, what next? I could do without a timorous defeat to Costa Rica for one. But the bigger picture is this...

Hodgson must stay, if he wants to. There's a few mealy-mouthed naysayers already rolling out the drivel about needing more experience for a big tournament. Bollocks to that. Players don't get experience without going to a tournament like this. England were never going to win it, so why not let the younger lads have a go at it?

Chris Waddle's right to say that we make too big a deal of English players when they don't have a smidgen of the ability of, say, Suarez. Steven Gerrard - Stevie G to give him the stupid boy-band moniker - has to go. He's been a loyal servant, a tireless patriot, but he's very rarely achieved the heights of his club form at international level. The match-up with Pirlo in the last game proved two things: he's not a patch as a passer as Pirlo. And to even have a chance to get close he needed a minder or two in the middle of the park and Henderson isn't that bloke.

But our attitude to this World Cup has been tempered by a lack of expectation and those of us that tried not to get too hyped about the younger lads have been proved right.

I think the real question is, do those players have it in themselves to keep getting better at what they do? English football is littered with players who haven't quite gone on from precocious starts to became truly world-class players. I'd include Rooney in that, though again he had a fair game last night.

But there is a good set of players coming through. Let's not burden them with the golden generation tag. Let's just call them decent. And if Hodgson can keep Barkley, Sterling, Sturridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Shaw together for four years we will have a half-decent side. Even then, they're not going to win a World Cup, whatever Greg Dyke dopily hopes.

The main thing is that these lads keep getting better at their job. (And in Sturridge's case that means more shooting past the opposition keepers and fewer pass-backs to him. Scuffy Sturridge he was last night.) We've got to hope that they don't, having become one of those increasingly rare beasts of the Premier League, an Englishman playing first team football, get complacent and comfy on an astronomical wage and see their careers stall.

It doesn't seem to happen with the likes of Suarez and Ronaldo, Robben and Messi, but then again these are utterly exceptional footballers.

It would be good too, if they don't scurry off to the nearest big-club bench and sit there like decorative millionaires for two seasons (Jack Rodwell, where the fuck are you?).

So, yes, it was as painful as defeats can get, and no, it's not all over, but depending on Italy seems as long a shot as you can get. Balotelli wants a kiss from the Queen if they beat Costa Rica. Listen, if you beat Uruguay too the whole Royal family (of a consensual age) are your playthings for a fortnight, Mario.

But that wouldn't be right any road. England don't deserve to progress. I'd like to think that these lads will be better players for this. But then again I say that after every major tournament. Oh bollocks...